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World Ocean Day

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August 16, 2010

Bill Mott, PhD (Providence, RI). The Ocean Project. "Status update on the world's oceans."

Dr. Mott teaches at the Yale School of Forestry in New Haven, CT and is a participant in "World Ocean Day" that takes place each June. He became interested in the oceans while growing up on the coast of New Hampshire.

Water, of course, covers 70% of the planet's surface and no known life form can survive without it. In the sky, Earth appears as a "blue marble" in a sea of black. Why the Earth acquired so much water is open to debate but it is interesting that 70% of the human body is salt water.

Other planets have water but it is in the form of ice or gas or is chemically combines with other minerals. The Earth not only has lots of water but the temperature is usually between 32oF and 212oF, the extremely narrow range in which water is liquid.

"The Ocean Project," with which Dr. Mot is involved, helps zoos, aquaria and schools to better educate students and the public about oceans. The primary message is that no matter where you live or who you are, you personally can make a difference. Much of the population is not directly affected by oceans and simply doesn't think about how important they are to life.

What we do to the oceans, we do to ourselves. 97% of the Earth's water is oceanic or salty and water is the ultimate source of all oxygen in the atmosphere. O2 which originally entered the atmosphere via oceanic phytoplankton.

The bulk of the world's population depends on seafood as their primary protein source. This is becoming more and more contaminated - often with mercury that bio-accumulates as it moves up the food chain. In countries like Japan, mercury poisoning from seafood is common.

The oceans are also a major regulator of climate and human caused climate change could ultimately affect weather patterns and the humidity and oxygen in the air. The ocean are also the main "cog" in the hydrological cycle in which water evaporates from the ocean, accumulates in the air as clouds, falls on land as fresh water rain and returns back to the ocean.

Problems:

Oceans are becoming more acidic. This can cause major kills and move up the food chain.

Coral reefs are growing more slowly and many are dying because of the change in the water composition. They are extremely sensitive to slight environmental changes.

Coal powered power plants, which supply 60% of the energy in the United States, emit mercury that also bio-accumulates in the oceans.

And a slight change in everyone's driving habits could make a huge difference.

Websites: www.worldoceanday.org and seastheday.org (take the Seven Seas Pledge).